January 9, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)


We are all omnibuses in which our ancestors ride, and every now and then one of them sticks his head out and embarrasses us.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Every child learns about Cinderella, who was used by her family as a servant and who cleaned the cinders from the fireplace. Thanks to her fairy godmother, she was dressed in fancy clothes, went to a ball and eventually married the handsome prince. The story stops there. I will finish it for you and tell you what her fate was as a royal princess.

As a princess everything was done for her. She was dressed, washed, dried, fed, driven. Her "job" was to look beautiful and make royal babies. Her handsome prince probably turned out to be more of an ogre than a prince and he spent most of his time fighting wars or chasing other women. She might even have looked back on her cinder-cleaning days with nostalgia.

At the time that the story probably originated, many believed that the father made the baby and the mother was simply an incubator who kept it warm and nourished while it grew. In Charles Dickens' time many English people, including Dickens, believed that what a person became depended on his ancestry. There were no such things as genes or chromosomes in those days, nor did environment come into the equation. Dickens seemed to actually believed that the newborn child of an aristocratic woman could be abandoned in an orphanage and would grow up to have a noble character because of who his mother was. The Oliver Twist story is as much fantasy as The Hobbit. While it did help to reform orphanages, it is still horsepucky, amply laced with Dickens' bigotry.

Judging from the attention that is paid to members of the British royal family, a large number of Brits still believe that the queens, princes and princesses are something wonderful. Princess Diana was praised to the skies for doing what most ordinary people would do. She was, if you believe what was said about her, a good person. I suspect that you are also a good person. Will large numbers of people make a fuss over you, alive or dead? Then why make a fuss over a princess?

American royalty consists of the celebrities and the rich, and they can do no wrong. We hear about them continually getting away with what might send an ordinary person to the pokey, or worse. Prime examples are O.J. Simpson or Teddy Kennedy as well as just about any well known actor, musician or sports star.

In other words, people today in the US's "democracy," are not much different from the way people are in the limited monarchy of Great Britain, or the way that they have been since the beginning of recorded history. I suspect that there is little difference between people everywhere, regardless of their governments or beliefs.

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